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CITATION(2018) 8 SCC 501
COURTSupreme Court of India
APPELLANTGovernment of NCT Delhi
RESPONDENTUnion of India
BENCHDipak Mishra, CJI A.K.Sikri, A.M.Khanwilkar, Ashok Bhushan and Dr.D.Y.Chandrachud, JJ.


The dispute between the Delhi administration and the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi is at the centre of the administration of the National Capital Territory of Delhi v. Union of India and Others case. The interpretation of Article 239AA of the Indian Constitution, which gives Delhi special status among the Union Territories, is at the heart of this legal issue. The central point in this case is whether, in accordance with Article 239AA, clause (4), the LG must heed the Council of Ministers’ advice. The Delhi High Court heard the issue first, and it found in the LG’s favour, holding that the LG had complete jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Delhi’s National Capital Territory. The government ministers in Delhi were not happy with this choice, thus they later made the decision to appeal to the Supreme Court. 


In 2015, there was an update that it was not compulsory for the LG to send information related to the police, public order  and land as they are the reserved powers of LG. It was also informed that the federal government personnel are not subject to investigation by the Delhi Anti-Corruption Branch. Subsequently, the government of Delhi ordered an investigation panel to look into possible scams involving some central government officials. The LG raised an objection to it. The matter was sent to the Home Ministry, which declared the Delhi government’s acts to be illegal ab initio and legally illegitimate. 

Further, the Delhi government constituted a one-member commission of inquiry to investigate into a scam, which was considered as not valid as the government has no such power to constitute a commission because Delhi is not a state. And a suit was filed in the High Court of Delhi. The court ruled that the commissions constituted by the Delhi government are not legal and the Delhi ACK can investigate the central government employees. It basically ruled in favour of the LG. Displeased by this, the government of Delhi appealed the matter to the Supreme Court. 


Whether, as required by Article 239AA, clause (4), the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi had to heed the advice and suggestions of the Council of Ministers?


The appellant says that the territory of Delhi occupies more power than the other Union Territories. Article 239AA placed LG as the senior head rather than the Council of Ministers. By referring to the decision of New Delhi Municipal Corporation vs. State of Punjab, they contended that Delhi is distinct to other Union Territories. It was granted a unique position in relation to the other Union Territories. It was stated that the Delhi Council of Ministers’ assistance and counsel are required of the LG of Delhi. Article 239AA cut down the executive power of the Centre to only 3 reserved subjects falling outside the purview of the Council of Ministers. According to the Article 239AB, if the territory is not being carried out as per the Article 239AA, the President has the power to suspend the operation in any part or whole of Article 239AA. According to Article 239AA(4), when it comes to issues that fall under the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s legislative purview, the LG is not required to heed the assistance and recommendations of the Council of Ministers. And this would undermine the purpose of establishing institutions essential for the effective functioning of the democracy. 


Even though the Article 239AA gives power to the Legislative Assembly for Delhi, but the President remains as the executive head acting through the LG and these powers will not be derogated in any manner. By taking into account the case mentioned by the appellant, they contended that even though Delhi is a different class, it is still a Union Territory. As per the Article 239, the Union Territories are to be governed by the President, through an administrator and Article 239AA should be read with the former one. In the Article 239AA(4), it is mentioned that LG and his ministers, which says that it is the LG not his ministers who is responsible for the administration. In case of difference of opinion between ministers and LG, as per Article 239AA(4) comes into play, which says that the decision of the President will prevail. They finally submitted that the administration of Delhi was in the hands of the Union Government. They placed reliance upon the Balakrishnan Committee. 


The Supreme Court ruled that LG should be informed about the decisions of the government but they do not possess the authority to make independent decisions. Regarding legislative affairs under the purview of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, he is to heed the assistance and advice of the ministers. This includes the areas of the State List and the COncurrent list, excluding police, public order and land. 

When there is a disagreement, the Lieutenant Governor may consult the President; however, the President is not always bound by the Council of Ministers’ decision; this happens very seldom. The court underlined that Delhi does not possess the designation of a state, even with its unique status, citing the findings of the Balakrishnan Committee. As a result, in addition to serving as a symbolic constitutional figurehead, the Lieutenant Governor also has the administrative title.

The court also emphasised a balanced governance approach for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, rejecting both absolutism and anarchism. 


The Supreme Court made it clear that, with the exception of issues pertaining to land, public order, and law enforcement, where the LG is free to consult the President, the LG is required to follow the counsel of the elected administration. This verdict aimed to balance the autonomy of the elected government with the central government’s role, recognising Delhi’s unique state. The court emphasised that while the LG is not a mere figurehead, Delhi is not a full state, defining the LG as an administrator. The decision urged the LG to use the power to refer matters to the President only in exceptional circumstances, cautioning against routine use. This ruling holds significant implications for the governance structure of Delhi, providing a nuanced framework to facilitate cooperation and functional governance. 


The court’s verdict sought to strike a delicate balance between the elected government’s authority and the unique administration role of the LG. The court aimed to establish a cooperative and functional governance structure by defining the binding nature of the elected government. The emphasis on reserving the power to refer matters to the President in the exceptional cases guards against the routine or mechanical exercise of such authority. Overall, the case provides a fine distinction framework that recognizes the complexities of federal governance, fostering a collaborative approach for effective administration in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.


  1. Manupatra. 
  2. SCC Online. 

This article is written by Teja Naga Tapasya Mokamatla, student of DSNLU, Vizag: Intern at Legal Vidhiya. 

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